Southampton extended their run in the FA Cup with a win against previous champions Arsenal. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side proved to be too much against a rotated Arsenal starting 11.
Hasenhuttl asserted the importance of the FA Cup by fielding their strongest starting eleven. The risk proved to reap the benefits as the home side dominated the first half, heading into the interval with a deserved one-goal advantage courtesy of a Gabriel Magalhães own goal.
A blunt Arsenal side failed to make much of a dent towards Fraser Forster’s goal in the second half which meant that Southampton had eliminated the holders of the FA Cup for the first time since beating Spurs in 1901/02 season, coincidently, Saints ended up reaching the final that season, only losing out to Sheffield United.
The Austrian manager reinstated the importance of good organisation prior to the game if his side were to come out on top; that proved to be the case as the Arsenal backline struggled to bypass the press Southampton applied, leading to the only goal of the game.
Hasenhuttl told the press after the game:
“First half we played very well after a few problems with the pressing, we had to adjust a little bit. We could play a little calmer.”
Mikel Arteta’s side have gained some form of late, taking 13 points from 15 with goals becoming less of a rarity. Despite the great run in front of goal, Southampton came into the game having kept four clean sheets in their past five matches.
Arsenal’s lacklustre front-line consisting of record signing Nicolas Pepe, Willian and Eddie Nketiah failed to cause any difficulties for Southampton’s backline.
A sense of anxiousness beckoned within the Southampton supporters when their star man, Jannick Vestergaard picked up an injury which would keep the Danish international out for a couple of months. It begged the question whether Jack Stephens could replicate the form the 6ft 6 in defender was consistently producing. Jack Stephens was forced to come into the fold as a replacement and has proven his worth to the side with continuous resolute performances at the back besides partner Jan Bednarek. The duo have kept five clean sheets in their past six matches, and some could argue that this doesn’t come as a surprise.
The partnership has been developing ever since last season with both Bednarek and Stephens complementing each other perfectly. On various occasions, Stephens has brought the ball out from the back, demonstrating how integral the defender’s style of play is to Hasenhuttl’s system in turning defence into attack.
The Polish international, Bednarek has put in some stand out performances this season and the 24-year-old didn’t disappoint yet again. Bednarek possesses an old head on young shoulders, failing to put a foot wrong, frustrating Arsenal’s struggling front line. The rise has been exceptional, particularly during Hasenhuttl’s tenure with Bednarek seemingly improving by the game. The statistics the defensive ace produced on the day is something to be admired, winning 100% aerial duels, 100% tackles won, 6 clearances, 3 interceptions and a clean sheet to accompany the sensational performance. At only the ripe age of 24, Hasenhuttl can further mould Bednarek into a world-beater.
A mention has to go towards the former England international Fraser Forster who has impressed when given the opportunity this season, keeping three clean sheets from three (Liverpool, Shrewsbury, Arsenal). Hasenhuttl has been left with a difficult decision in who to pick in the starting 11 come every match.
Ibrahima Diallo has grasped the opportunity given to him by the manager with both hands as the young Frenchman impressed yet again. The injury to Oriol Romeu may have come as a blessing in disguise as Diallo has been ever-present in the Saints midfield.
Diallo has been compared to the likes of N’golo Kante with real similarities that are clear to perceive. Diallo attains a composed nature on the ball, always picking the right pass. Against the ball, the 21-year-old is aggressive and industrious, accompanying skipper James Ward-Prowse to a tee.
Hasenhuttl has extremely high demands of his players yet Diallo has reached the expectations with his incredible work rate. On various occasions, the energetic midfielder pounced on loose balls and tracked back constantly to deal with any threat. The pace Diallo possesses is quite exceptional too, helping to suppress any danger from counter-attacks.
The midfielder has exceeded the Southampton faithful’s expectations and has thrived in Hasenhuttl’s system.
“I must say, he is convincing me more and more when he plays. Especially his speed with and against the ball.”